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Lawsuit: Texas' English Language Programs "Grossly Deficient"

Inadequate supervision from the state has led to "grossly deficient" English language instruction for Texas public school students, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a response from Southwest ISD.

Texas has failed to properly monitor public school programs intended to help students with language barriers learn English, according to a federal lawsuit brought by a Hispanic legal advocacy group Tuesday.  

In its lawsuit, the League of United Latin American Citizens alleges that the state's lack of support and supervision has led to "grossly deficient" language instruction programs, especially in middle and high schools where English language learning students "continue to perform abysmally." The complaint is a continuation of a legal battle between LULAC and the state that began in 2006, when the group sued over the same issue. A lower court decided in LULAC's favor, only to have the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverse the ruling in 2010, saying that further analysis was needed. 

“Four years ago, the 5th Circuit described the performance of ELL students as ‘alarming’ and when one out of every two long-term ELL students is not advancing in English today, this shows that things have not changed,” attorney David Hinojosa said in a statement. “This lawsuit should be the wake-up call that is needed to spur positive, affirmative action by the school districts and the State of Texas once and for all.”

San Antonio's Southwest and North East independent school districts are also named in the new lawsuit.

Roughly 17 percent of the state's 5 million public school students qualify as English language learners, or ELLs. Within that group, about 90 percent are Hispanic. Under the federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act, states must implement programs — based on "sound educational theory" — that successfully help students overcome language barriers. Texas law requires school districts to offer language instruction if they have 20 or more English language learning students in the same grade.

Lauren Callahan, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said state attorneys were currently reviewing the complaint. 

"Many of the allegations have already been heard in federal court and defended by the state," she wrote in an email. "We stand ready to defend them again."

Tuesday's court filing charges that lax state standards for English language teacher certification and little training in how to instruct students with language barriers for mainstream teachers have continued to result in poor academic performance among ELL students. Fewer students are also transitioning out of language programs, according to the lawsuit, a further sign that schools are failing to provide adequate English instruction.  

"Contrary to popular belief, a majority of ELL students in secondary schools are not classified as recent immigrants," it states, adding that about 70 percent of ELL students currently in grades six through 12 have been in Texas public schools for at least five years, a figure that has increased by 10 percent in the last five years. The court filing cites testing data that show that statewide, 56 percent of longterm ELL students in third through 12th grade failed have failed to advance at least one level on state language proficiency exams. 

A spokeswoman for Southwest ISD said the district had yet to be served official papers in the lawsuit, but SWISD believed "in the education of all students from all backgrounds and we look forward to sharing our academic progress."

North East ISD has not returned a request for comment.

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